How To Face Your Demons…
…Even When You Desperately Don’t Want To
How to finally let that pain go
Here’s the thing — we have all been there. We’ve suffered through the aftermath of an emotionally or mentally traumatic experience before eventually finding something else to distract ourselves with. I have been a professional at problem avoidance for most of my adult life. At any slight hint of an issue, you can bet I am sprinting toward the other side of existence — doing everything necessary and unnecessary to avoid the problem. Can you blame this on my paralyzing anxiety? Possibly. But if I had the option to flip off a building just to avoid the problem I was facing any given week, you can bet I wouldn’t even ask to be strapped to a harness before diving face first. With any stressful situation, I avoid, avoid, avoid, until I have no other choice but to face the bull head on. And guess what? I survive every single time. So do I believe that avoidance is a beneficial option? No. Do I feel as if it is a healthy or reliable option? Not at all.
“…you will realize that once the monsters are gone, you are left with a wound that needs to be healed.”
What I do know is that at the end of each situation I desperately avoided, I eventually had to face it. In being forced to face the issue, I learned that I had the strength to handle it all along. Does it hurt? Yes. Is it a difficult ordeal that you will probably never want to do again? Most definitely. But…is it worth it? Hell yes.
When facing the things that scare you — the things that keep you up at night — you will realize that once the monsters are gone, you are left with a wound that needs to be healed. Whether that wound impacts your life in a major or superficial way, actions need to be taken to ensure a healthy physical, spiritual, and mental space going forward. Carrying on without a proper self-care technique would further exacerbate the issue, and we all know we don’t need more problems on top of the ones we already have.
Even though I’ve become adept at avoiding and pushing forward, I’ve learned that trying to be okay after a traumatic event isn’t always okay — it’s harmful. I am still on the journey to figuring myself out and the best ways for me to heal from traumatic experiences, but I hope the advice I have so far will help you take the steps necessary to acknowledge your hurt and heal from it.
Step One: Stop Avoiding It
Now you know when you turn on that show on Netflix, browse that dating app, or excessively throw yourself into your work that there is something from which you’re wanting to escape. Be honest. Obviously, this isn’t always the case, but sometimes in the back of your mind you can hear a little alarm going off reminding you that the issue you haven’t faced hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s there, ringing softly in the dark spaces of your mind, creating echoes that grow louder with each ring. You drown it out with everything you can change your mind to — video games, friends, other people’s issues. Why don’t you just take a second and listen? Try not to distract yourself this time and ask yourself, “What am I avoiding?”
For me, that is a bit of a loaded question, because I have plenty of issues that warrant my time —
- Sexual trauma I haven’t processed
- Depression I ignore
- Anxiety that suffocates me
- Guilt that eats away at my mind
What are yours? Think about them. Name them. Write them down. I have found that writing down the things I know I need to deal with helps. I have mental and sexual trauma stemming from experiences in childhood and adulthood. In dealing with them over the years, I have found it incredibly difficult to sit down and think about them.
Last year, a friend of mine — let’s call her “K” — came out about her sexually traumatic experience with a mutual friend of ours, “D”. Because it hit so close to home with my own that occurred the Summer before, I completely shut down and became an emotional wreck. For months on end, I replayed the instances of my own trauma in my mind nonstop.
Before any of it happened, I was a model…or I was trying really hard to be. At a painfully average height of 5’6’’, I had near-to-no hope of actually becoming a high-fashion model, but I still had a ton of fun doing it in college.
After taking a break from school for financial and mental health reasons, I experienced two separate instances of sexual violation — both by people I considered friends at the time.
The first time, I had discovered a guy — “H” — I was being intimate with had secretly recorded the two of us together. When I confronted him about it, he initially lied. He knew from conversations we had multiple times before that I was never comfortable with having any kind of sexual interactions recorded (as I’m an incredibly private person, I have aspirations of becoming an actress, and I wouldn’t ever want videos or nudes leaked). I had to ask him three times to delete the video, and even then it didn’t seem as if he even understood why I was asking him to do so. Even now, part of me feels nauseated at the thought of it still being out there somewhere, and I wonder if there are other videos I don’t know about.
Immediately after finding out, I was overwhelmed with feelings of violation and hurt. H was someone I truly cared about and for him to take advantage of the situation in such a cruel manner cut me in a way I didn’t think I’d ever feel. He asked me to promise not to tell anyone, and I did. I was hurt and ashamed. I felt dirty and used and I didn’t want to process the idea of someone treating me, my boundaries, that way. But he did. He did. I eventually did tell a few people, and it was mostly met with understanding and support, but all it took was one person — one man — to tell me it wasn’t a big deal — that I shouldn’t feel violated and disrespected because everyone records things now — to make me second-guess saying anything else to anyone for a long time.
The other instance happened a bit after that. “D” was one of the people I told about the previous situation with H. When he expressed support, I figured he was someone I could trust. In addition, D was a person I had been friends with for over a year prior, as I was often the subject of his art (the photographer of the picture above has no connection to this situation). After a night of crying about a close friend who had moved away, I asked D to come over for comfort. He at the time was upset about a woman who had moved to another country, so I thought it would be safe. I was wrong.
I was crying when he came over. He kept trying to make sexual advances toward me and I told him no and that I wasn’t in the mood. I mean, was crying over someone else, so how could he have possibly gotten the idea that I wanted to have sex with him? I didn’t. I didn’t. But he kept pushing. He kept asking. He kept trying. I continued cry the whole time. I didn’t want it, but he didn’t want to listen to that. After it, I was still crying and I asked him to leave. He left. Then, a few months later, I found out he did it to a friend of mine as well.
After these instances, I stopped modeling. Those experiences mixed with the pain of my childhood sexual abuse and severe depression crippled me. My internal world slowly went dark. It was as if an already flickering light had suddenly been snuffed out.
I didn’t tell anyone for a while. I had flashbacks that I tried to push into the back of my mind. I spent the entire next year running, running, running. Each time I would even think about the traumas, my throat would close up and I would start having a panic attack. I developed an eating disorder and I would force myself to throw up at work. The negative feelings would build up so high, I couldn’t contain them, so I would eat a lot of food with the intention of vomiting it up later. I figured all those feelings would go down the toilet with it. I hated every inch of my body and I stopped hanging out with people who were in the same crowd. Seeing them made me wonder in the back of my mind if I’d be believed if I told them about what transpired between me and our mutual friends.
K, the other woman who was assaulted, came out about it on Instagram last year and she wanted me to share my story along with her. At the time, I couldn’t. I was just so scared and I wasn’t ready to deal with that pain yet. I also felt that once I told people about one story, I’d have to talk about the other traumas I experienced as well and there was no way I would’ve been able to survive that in the head space I was in at that time. So I kept avoiding. I ended up in a relationship with a guy that I told everything to. He was supportive, but at times pressured me to speak out about it. I couldn’t handle it. I didn’t want to.
Then a few months ago, I saw the Surviving R. Kelly documentary. I watched half of it with my then-boyfriend and my heart went out to the women who were abused. My heart ached for them, and I started to get angry. There, you had so many women talking about abuses they endured at the hands of a pedophile and people all over social media were defending him. I was livid. That documentary both wounded and enraged me and finally, I woke up. I had been spiraling for so long, that I had forgotten what it was like to feel still. I woke up and for once, the world didn’t move. I realized then that it was time to stop avoiding my problems.
Up until that point, I made every excuse in the book about why I shouldn’t say anything about the traumas that happened to me — I didn’t want to ruin their image, I didn’t want people to feel bad for me, I didn’t want people to think I’m a liar — all the while women everywhere were speaking about their sexual trauma — through the R. Kelly documentary and the #MeToo movement.
Eventually, I replaced the previous excuses I had to justify not saying anything with this thought: These were all grown men who knew better, but still decided to disrespect and ignore my boundaries. I asked myself, “How long will women — black women especially — be expected to carry the weight of shame placed upon them by careless, predatory men?” I decided I couldn’t shoulder the shame and avoid the pain any longer.
When dealing with the pain you’ve experienced, take a second to identify the ways in which you justify not facing your own trauma. Why do you avoid it? As I’ve stated, I didn’t want to deal with the shame. What is your reason? Next, ask yourself how long you’re willing to use that reason as an excuse — 5 years? 10? Why are you willing to wait that long? After, ask yourself what it would take for you to face it? For me, it was realizing the power and strength of women.
Are you ready to face your trauma? You may not be, and that is completely understandable. Take the time your need to become ready. There is no pressure to share if you don’t want to. You have that choice. If you are ready — and if facing it would require something that’s accessible to you, find a way to create those circumstances (safely, of course). If you do not have the circumstances you need, ask yourself if there are other, safe, ways to get to where you feel you need to be. Even if you cannot face all your trauma at the time you’re reading this article, maybe there are smaller, less painful steps you can take until you’re able to handle more.
An Exercise to Try —
- Each day, acknowledge a different part about the pain you’re avoiding. Breathe slowly and stay calm as you do it. Speak to your trauma as if it’s a person, a child. Tell the trauma that you know there is pain that needs to be addressed, it deserves to be listened to, you’re no longer avoiding it, and you will address it when you can.
Processing trauma is a difficult experience, but in the end it is so rewarding. The important part is that you take safe, deliberate steps toward healing. Once you start by stopping your avoidance tendencies, you’ll find the rest is much easier.
Step Two: Talk About It
I know, I know. I just got done talking about how I barely told anyone about what I went through…however, this article is proof that I made it through that. If I can do it (as someone heavy with Scorpio placements, if you’re into astrology) anyone can.
For the longest time, one of my greatest fears was telling my family about the sexual abuse I experienced as a child. Did I ever overcome that fear? No. Did I decide to tell my truth to the internet anyway, risking the possibility of my whole family reading this? Yup. I sure did, because at the end of the day, even if the truth hurts, allowing myself to finally release the trauma I’ve held in is a welcomed relief.
When I was a child, my mom was married to a man, my ex-stepfather, who is the biological father of my younger sister. From my understanding, his side of the family had its own unfortunate history of sexual abuse, so for him to to pass that burden onto me was quite cruel.
When I was about three or four years old, one of my earliest memories was being taken into a bathroom with him and being molested and told to do disgusting things with him. He told me not to tell anyone and as a child not fully understanding the weight that was placed upon me, I didn’t. In later years, he’d grope me, rub his body against mine, and make me touch him inappropriately.
There was one instance where my mom had left and asked my ex-stepfather, Thomas, to get us food. Me being the oldest girl and deemed more ‘responsible’ than my older brothers, it often fell to me to cook, make sure my siblings were fed. This night, my siblings really wanted McDonald’s. Using this as leverage, Thomas asked me to give him a “massage” in exchange for food. I did it, and I felt disgusting. There was no reason for a grown man to ask a child of about 10 or 11 to give him a massage of any kind. He bought the food and told me not to say anything. I continued to suffer in silence.
As an adult, I came to realize those traumatic experiences were where my sense of self-worth started. From there, I was doomed to have a toxic relationship with men where they’d take what I didn’t want to give. At a young age, I was trained not to say anything about my trauma. I was conditioned to act like nothing was wrong. I was put in impossible situations where I was trained to put my welfare and emotional security on the back burner for a man who knew better than to ask that of me.
After the sexual violation that came from D and H, I didn’t know how to process my feelings about them. I didn’t know how to deal with being violated. I had learned in my earlier years that to survive, I had to stay silent and pretend like things were normal — so that was what I did. After what happened with D and H, I still hung out with them for a few months. I still talked to them. I still behaved as if nothing was wrong. We were still “friends.” I didn’t want to take on the full weight of what it would mean for me to say I was violated sexually — by multiple different people. Another part of the reason why I never talked about these situations was because I knew if I said anything, I’d have to be absolutely honest about everything — about continuing to talk to them and be friends with them afterward.
Honestly, I didn’t hate them afterward, not for a long time. I don’t even hate them now. I mainly hated myself. I attacked myself. I punished myself. I hung out with them as a reminder to myself that I wasn’t worth anything more than what they did to me. I made myself believe I deserved it. I justified it. Poisonous turmoil boiled inside me. I became toxic to myself. There was a period of time where allowing myself to pretend that I was okay with everything actually made it okay in my mind. In reality, it wasn’t. It wasn’t. Regardless of what happened after my boundaries were crossed, I didn’t ask for what happened, I didn’t deserve what happened, it wasn’t okay for me to be violated.
I’m choosing to be as honest as I am because I believe there are other women like me — other women who have remained in contact with their predators after the initial trauma and fear speaking out because of that contact. People outside of traumatic situations have a habit of casting judgement on how victims treat a situation after it has happened to them. In an ideal world, charges would’ve been placed right after these assaults. This isn’t an ideal world, unfortunately. I’m here to add a context that would likely be ignored and undermined. I am not someone who had consensual sex and “regretted it afterward.” I am someone who expressed discomfort, who said no and still had her boundaries explicitly violated. Though I no longer talk to any of them now, I chose to remain in contact with D and H as a defense mechanism — albeit a very unhealthy, toxic one — one I learned and had repeatedly reinforced by a man who was supposed to protect me.
Once I eventually started to embrace the idea that I wasn’t at fault for my trauma, I started writing. Poetry is one of my very first loves, so naturally, I began to write spoken word about my experiences. I found that with each time I’d read a poem aloud, a part of me would feel a little freer, I’d get a bit lighter. When I’d read my poems, they’d be met with so much support and love that it helped to heal me. I started to learn how to take the negative emotional turmoil boiling inside me and transform it into something healing for myself and others. At one performance, I had a lady come up to me afterward and tell me how my poem resonated with her. That in and of itself was a direct confirmation that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing — speaking out.
So, now it’s your turn. Is the pain you’ve gone through something you’ve kept hidden? I completely understand the impulse to hide secrets and trauma that feels shameful. As cliché as it sounds, talking about the trauma truly does help. You don’t have to get on stage and broadcast it to strangers if you don’t want to, but speaking to at least a therapist would be ideal. I’ve gone to therapy religiously for two years and the amount of healing I’ve gained from doing so is immense. If you do not have the access, talking to trusted, understanding friend or even just writing down the trauma in a private journal could help. The idea here is to just to get it out of you — keeping it in just allows for more ways for it to fester and cause internal harm.
An Exercise to Try —
- When in the shower, think about one person you would want to tell about your trauma. Speak to them about it, out loud. Your voice doesn’t have to be above a whisper. Express everything you would like to convey. Be honest, allow yourself to get emotional. Tell the person how you feel, how the trauma has affected you, and how you want to heal from it.
- Doing this is a good practice to start. Becoming comfortable with vocalizing the trauma in private is a way to own your own voice, your own story. Later, once you’re comfortable, you can talk to people about it, if you choose to do so. Having the practice of simply speaking it would keep you from choking on your words, giving you a confidence you may not have had before.
Step Three: Release It
Take the time to let go. On the road to recovering from trauma, it becomes immensely beneficial when you learn to release the pain inside you.
I have been carrying the pain of what my ex-stepfather did to me for 21 years, and honestly, just typing that out weighs heavily on me. In those years, I plummeted into a deep depression, where I suffered from dissociation and suicidal ideation. In college, I started going to therapy and was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder II. This revelation finally put a label to my declining mental state. While in therapy, I was sent to a two different mental hospitals, where in one, I was sexually harassed by another patient — which will be detailed in another article. So after surviving the aforementioned traumatic experiences, to then be subjected to two other instances of feeling as if my body no longer belonged to just me, it can be accurately concluded that I have had a lot of things that need releasing.
A new friend of mine recently told me that we as humans carry trauma in our hips. Before this bit of information, my trauma healing journey through writing had consisted of me visualizing myself taking a mini shovel and scooping out dirt from my womb. I considered talking about my trauma as a sort of “Spring Cleaning” before I even knew humans held trauma there. I say this to say that we inherently know what is best for us. We all know how to heal ourselves. We know how to let go of our pain, it just requires a little self-awareness and willingness to listen. Last year, you couldn’t get me to say anything about trauma without me going into panic mode. Just seeing other women — Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and R. Kelly’s victims — talk about it made me break down crying. Now after all of that, I connected to myself and realized what I really needed to do was write an article.
As I’ve written in this article about dealing with depression, one of the best methods I use to release the negative self-talk and emotions that come with reliving trauma is meditation. If what my friend told me is true, and I believe it is, then our hips are storage for trauma. In the case of universal spirituality and enlightenment, this hip area coincides with the Sacral Chakra (an energy center), which rules over reproductive organs and is a center for sensuality, creativity, and power. When dealing with unreleased trauma, this area becomes blocked, stifling creative endeavors and emotions. When attempting to heal this area, meditation becomes very useful and effective.
An Exercise to Try —
- When ready to meditate, try playing music specifically suited for Sacral Chakra meditation, such as the one below:
- Get comfortable and close your eyes. Breathe deeply and evenly. Let your body calm down. When you’re relaxed and ready, visualize the area of your Sacral Chakra being filled with a bright orange light. As it is being filled, watch as the orange light pushes out the darkness that holds the pain of yous trauma. As the trauma is pushed out, continue to breathe slowly and evenly. After it is all out, visualize the orange light glowing brighter and bigger, spreading a warm energy through your body.
- Another idea when meditating, and a technique I use every day, is meditating in the shower. I get a stick of incense and my phone. I light the incense in the bathroom and play Sacral Chakra healing music. I turn out the lights, sit on the floor of the bathtub and let the water pour over me. Instead of doing a traditional meditation, I talk to myself. I announce all the negative emotions and trauma I want to let out. I allow myself to feel the pain (because just pushing it away won’t help) and then release it. My mantra: “I open myself up to feel the pain of my trauma so that I can release it in a healthy manner.” Be careful when you say this, because I’ve had times where the pain hits me like a train and I have to take a second before I can re-focus. I visualize myself absorbing my internal pain and releasing it through my breath. After I do this for about 10 minutes, I wash myself free of all the dirt — literally and figuratively. I end it all by turning the water to cold for a minute before hopping out. After each shower, I feel exhausted at first, but as the day goes on, I continue to feel lighter and freer.
Another option in order to release trauma is doing trauma yoga. This kind of yoga is also body-oriented, but is geared toward showing you how you hold tension in your body. By learning to release tension in your body you may not even know you had, you learn how to let go of trauma. Look up places in your area that offer this kind of yoga therapy. I have found it helps me to feel more comfortable in my body again.
A thing to remember is that in all of these steps, though every bit of my being fought against it, I was able to push through all of it to find healing. The key to all of this is a willingness to get better. Healing is a process that takes patience, self-care, and time. The process includes set backs, bouts of depression, and moments of fear. If you can a way to stay on your path to healing, I promise you there will be a moment where it all clicks into place for you. You deserve to be healed. You deserve to feel better.
When talking to me, people often say my voice is really soft and delicate-sounding. It then shocks them when they find out I can shout clear across a room without straining (psshh, actors). My ex-stepfather was the very first man to come into my life and take my voice away from me. D and H were the next to who did not deem my voice worthy of being listened to when they decided to cross and disrespect my boundaries. I allowed my voice to be quieted when I refused to say anything about it, causing additional deeply rooted harm in myself. It is for this reason that cannot be silent any longer.
At this time, I do not wish to name D and H publicly, so I want whoever reads this to understand this very important fact. This article isn’t about who did these things to me — it’s about how I have chosen to heal from it. I have decided it was best for me to share my story in hopes that it helps others as well. I have tried my hardest to push myself to be as honest and transparent as possible and that is exactly the standard I hold myself to in each article and poem I write. If somehow, going through all the details of this story causes you to victim-blame or try to discredit me, please save your energy. I know my truth, they know my truth, and I stand in it confidently. I will no longer hold the shame of people who could not find it in themselves to respect my body and my boundaries.
To everyone in need of trauma healing, I truly hope this helps you! You will be fine, and eventually, the more you release the trauma you have inside you, the better you will begin to feel. My mind has become a lot lighter and easier to live in, to create in. I hope this does the same for you. Please keep pushing forward and find new ways to release your trauma. Remember that you did not deserve it and you deserve to find your healing. I am in your corner. I believe you. I support you. I love you. Thank you.
Coming up as future articles:
- The View from the Bottom
- Using Astrology to Heal Yourself